NEW YORK — Cassius Winston had a good look from deep. Then Kyle Ahrens. Then Aaron Henry. And Winston again. Xavier Tillman, too. The opportunities were there for No. 1 Michigan State to crawl itself back into the game against No. 2 Kentucky in the Champions Classic. But, no one could capitalize.
When the Spartans had a chance to tie the game or take the lead, the shots simply didn't fall. Michigan State struggled to shoot from behind the arc in its 69-62 season-opening loss to the Wildcats, finishing 5-for-26 on the night from three-point range, which ultimately played a major role in the final result.
“It's just disappointing because if you shoot a little bit better, you have a real chance to win the game,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said following the game .
Despite foul trouble and turnovers plaguing the Spartans throughout Tuesday's game, and trailing all night after Winston opened the game with a layup, Michigan State still found itself with a chance to win with five minutes left.
MSU trailed 43-41 with 11 minutes to go when Winston uncharacteristically missed a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner. The Spartans trailed 58-56 when Tillman missed a three-pointer with less than four minutes left to take the lead. On Michigan State's next trip down the floor, Ahrens had the same opportunity — and got the same result.
A couple of possessions later, Tyrese Maxey, who led the Wildcats with 26 points Tuesday night, hit the three-point dagger to put Kentucky up 65-60 with less than a minute to go.
“We just couldn’t get over that hump, it was like that the whole game," Winston said. "We cut it down to two, we cut it down to four, we cut it down to five or something like that, we just couldn’t get over that, you know, make that one shot, make that one play.”
Winston only made one of his seven attempts from behind the arc Tuesday night. Gabe Brown finished 2-for-6, while Henry and Ahrens each finished 1-for-3. Tillman missed all three of his attempts, and Rocket Watts missed two as well.
“I thought Gabe took some bad shots. I thought Malik’s was wide open, but other than that I thought we had some great threes that we just didn’t hit," Izzo said. "Cassius had one at the top of the key, one in the corner that I bet 90 percent on. The ball just didn’t go in. I thought we ran a great play to get Arnie (Ahrens) that one at the top of the key to cut it to two or one, just didn’t go in. I can live with that.”
With many of those coming during crucial points in the game, Izzo said his team really missed the presence of senior guard Josh Langford, who can create his own opportunities and provide a stable secondary scorer next to Winston in the back-court. Even if Langford was healthy, it may not have mattered against Kentucky. The Spartans missed one after another, and as each shot clanked off the iron, another opportunity to take control of Tuesday's game passed them by.
“One of those shots, one of those plays, you know, one of those turnovers could have been avoided and maybe we're talking about a whole different game right now and having a whole different conversation," Winston said. "Like I said, it's tough and we have everything we need we just got to get better in a lot of areas.”